Feb 28, 2012

Short Cuts That Aren't

I have a silly problem.
I tend to try and do too many physical things at once for maximum efficiency and end up coming a cropper.
I do this time and time again even though I am aware of the likely effect.
This is because every now and then it comes off and I get to high-five myself for my brilliance.

I am not sure whether this is a side-effect of having been mega busy working a demanding job full-time while raising kids, or whether it's just a personality flaw I have. I can't remember to what extent I did this before having kids.

I am getting out the butter from the fridge to make the sandwiches for the kids' lunches. I know I also need the cheese and the grapes from the same fridge, and it would be so terribly inefficient to have to come back. So I get the butter, then balance the jam jar on top of the butter tub, and with my "free" hand I carry the grapes.

Not so illogical, right? You do this too, I am sure.

Except I am always pushing the limits of what can usefully be achieved and trying to carry too much. Inevitably one or more things drop from my hands and I let out a howl of frustration at the unfairness of it all. It's not fair! I was being efficient! Now I have to pick up/clean up this stuff that I have no time to do!!!

Example 2:
My bench space is full with different stages of cooking, and I decide to unpack the dishwasher. I need dinner plates for dinner, and there are dinner plates coming out of the dishwasher. Goodness, it would be so inefficient to put those away and then get them out again when dinner's ready! So I take out 4 dinner plates to put them on the bench.
The bench is a little full. It would be so inefficient to put down those plates and then clear the bench and then pick up the plates again to move them back to the bench! So I balance the four stacked plates on the little T-bar created by the divider of the two sinks, while I clear some bench space; THEN I retrieve the plates and move them to the bench.
I know full well that that area where I balance the plates is precarious, because I have dropped other things I've balanced there while "efficiently" doing multiple things.
But it is "efficient" because it's next to the bench and at the same level, so I don't need to bend over or turn around to put the plates down somewhere.

Example 3:
I am doing laundry. I want to walk to the laundry to the get the wet clothes out of the washing machine, to walk them outside to the clothes line. But I spy a basket of clothes that has to be folded and put away. Well, why would I do these as two seperate tasks, when I could save time by using the same basket for both? Obviously! So all I have to do is pick up the basket of clothes, fold and sort the clothes on the table and then carry them to their correct bedroom drawers, then carry the basket to the laundry to fetch the wet clothes. Genius!

Except as I start this task I see the basket also contains towels that have to be put away in the laundry.
Hmm. Obviously, I don't want to be inefficient and walk the towels to the laundry, walk the other stuff to the berdooms and then come back to the laundry. I mean obviously. So I have to take the clothes to the bedrooms first, then the towels to the laundry as my last stop, from which point I will be able to use the basket to collect the wet clothes.

Hmm. Two of the bedrooms are past the laundry.
It hardly seems efficient to walk past the laundry to go to the bedrooms and then back again! But the other bedroom is on the other side of the house.

I am momentarily stuck with indecision. I consider what order to complete things in using the one basket, or whether it makes more sense to divide the task in two and use a second basket, involving an extra stop at the laundry.

Finally I decide to fold and sort the clothes and towels, place the towels in the basket and kids' clothes on top, walk parents' clothes to bedroom 1, come back to the table to collect the basket, walk it to the laundry and leave the basket on the floor outside the laundry, pick up the two bundles of kids' clothes and take them to the kids' bedrooms in my arms, leaving the basket and towels outside the laundry.

So I do this, but while carrying the clothes in my hands naturally I drop a couple and have to come back and get them (on my way back of course - no sense backtracking!)

All this feels (because it is) silly and cumbersome during the first tasks, but I get to feel "efficient" on the last task, carrying the basket to the laundry filled only with items for the laundry, then using the same basket to collect the new washing. Genius!

I do not have OCD. My bedroom is a mess. I use different colour pegs on the same garments on the washing line. I don't care (too much) about matching pillow slips, bedsheets and quilt covers. I don't line up anything, nor wash or check anything multiple times.

I am just obsessed with saving time, and the mantra to "work smarter not harder." Even though, through using all these weird false short cuts, I am neither working smarter nor saving any time.

Take your time
Image by ZeroOne via Flickr CC

Awhile ago I came across a fascinating article all about the Efficiency Movement in early 20th century America. I think its proponents were probably prone to the same everyday obsessions as mine.  They promoted "economy of movement", from the industrial to the personal scale. They used stopwatches to time tasks, and they measured body movements and steps taken to complete them. They "taught" factory workers and labourers how to perform their tasks "more efficiently" - i.e., in fewer movements.
One can imagine the bemusement or annoyance with which the workers who did their jobs day in and day out - and had no doubt worked out the best way to do them all by themselves - regarded these sessions.
Because of course, fewer movements or even less time does not always mean "efficiency". Sometimes it makes much more sense to do one thing at a time.

Is anyone else burdened by this madness? Or just me?

Feb 27, 2012

Do You Pinterest?

Image: Wikipedia Commons
**Updated 2 March

Do you pin?
Are you a pinner?
Do you find things Pinteresting?

Or do Pinterest and the terms above make you want to gag?

I'm not sure where I sit at the moment.

I've recently joined Pinterest, thanks to a kind invite from ChildLedChaos on Twitter, after I tweeted my incredulousness at the "request an invite" hurdle to joining. 

I joined because I am curious - much as I was when I joined Twitter. I couldn't quite see what the fuss was about, but so many love it, there must be something to it.

Pinterest has been around for awhile, but right now it seems to be at the tipping point towards global explosion. And from what little I had seen of it, I sort of wondered, "Why?"

Compilations of pretty pictures of frothy dresses, teacups and white chairs?

Image by Jepoycamboy via Flickr CC

Then suddenly one day last week, I kind of started to get it. I noticed three things:

(1) Pinterest retains image credits when you pin an image. That makes a great way to store images you come across that you might want to use later. Until now, I had been storing copies and laboriously copy-pasting the site for image credit onto a Word doc.

(2) That reminded me of the couple of Word docs I have with images stored on them for other purposes - such as the one with hairstyles I know would work on my hair, for future hairdressing visits. I've now converted that into a Pinterest board (don't judge OK - yes Meg Ryan is there but so is Alexa Chung; wavy hair admits all comers)

(3) Most interestingly, to me, because this hints at future evolutions of the site: this:
I'm participating in Homedad75's Fiction Fridays meme. ChildLedChaos has created a Fiction Fridays Pinterest board updated with all the new images posted on blogs each Friday. So this is another way to link bloggers and showcase a meme and promote the blogs participating - clever.

From my limited exposure it seems to me most people using Pinterest are using it for "inspiration boards". This might be things they like, home decor ideas, images that inspire them, or similar.

Here are some of the ways different bloggers use Pinterest:

Right now it seems that Pinterest is about to explode - and as that happens, people are going to use it in all sorts of inventive and interesting ways.

Are you into Pinterest?
What do you like about it?

Feb 24, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew: Dance Off

This week I'm featuring a book I am reading to A as a chapter a night. I picked it for her when I was looking for a chapter book she might like, and noticed this one featured dancing, a talent show and mystery-solving, which are all what she is heavily into at the moment.

Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew #30: Dance Off
Carolyn Keene, 2011 (Aladdin)

"Why do we have to wear these goofy pink coats?" George Fayne asked.
She frowned at the vinyl coat draped over her arm.
"What detectives walk around in these?"
"Dancing detectives!" Nancy Drew replied.

I have mixed feelings about Nancy Drew. I read lots of the books when I was a kid but I never really warmed to her - she was too perfect. Way too grown-up and together for supposedly an 18 year old (a little like most of the other girl detective series I read, including Linda Craig, Cherry Ames and others I can barely remember now - but my absolute favourite was the younger, more modern and more "real" seeming Trixie Belden).

The Clue Crew series is a repackaging of Nancy Drew for younger kids. They are still written by "Carolyn Keene" who is obviously a completely different set of writers these days, and they are illustrated with cartoons in current style every few pages. Nancy and her friends are now in primary school, and they say things like "fave" and "totally!"

George Fayne is no longer a "tomboy", but a "computer geek".
Bess Marvin is no longer "plump".
And Nancy Drew doesn't yet have a boyfriend, just a crush on a Bieber-like character fronting a kids' talent show in this book, who may or may not (I'm going with not) be the person sabotaging the kids' auditions for evil purposes.

I'd say these books are pretty fun for older kids - mine are slightly too young, so as we read each night we are doing a lot of backtracking and discussing around plot points and who knows what and who said what and who is connected to whom, as they are finding it all a bit confusing. There is a lot of "Who did that mama?", "Why did she say that?",  "Who's he again?" etc.

But despite that I can say that A is loving the book. She loves the concept, loves the pink coats, loves the name Nancy.  Nancy is A's middle name (named for Y's mum) and she has made me re-tell again and again the story of how we came up with their names and why she got Nancy for a middle name, and how she wished it was her first name instead!

Thay's the beauty of books - even when they're not quite right, you can still get so much out of them.

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Feb 22, 2012

Gate. Horse. Bolted.

So what happened in your world last week?
Here in ours, my husband chopped the top off his finger.
And then we fixed the dangerous item that caused the problem. After 8 years of not fixing it. With a very simple, cheap and quick fix.

What can I say - Learn From Our Fail.

Here is what happened.

Our front door has no door handle on the outside. It was like this when we bought the house 8 years ago. It just has a simple deadlock like this:

From the inside, there is the little knob you turn to open and close the door, and deadlock it.

From the outside, you close the door by putting your key in and using that to turn the lock and pull the door shut behind you.

Except the way we actually tended to close the door was different. Especially when you have hands full, it was easier to shut it like this:
  1. hold the side of the door with your right hand
  2. step outside
  3. open the door wide 
  4. pull door very fast towards you
  5. whip your hand out of the way before the door slams shut.

I know this sounds pretty dangerous / silly, because it is.

So on Friday the unthinkable - or more likely the inevitable - happened.

I was at work and Y had a day off. We'd had the dog fixed 2 weeks earlier and he was due to get his stitches out. Y was going to take the dog to the vet.

As Y struggled with a handful of things including a wriggly, excited Pomeranian straining at the leash, he lost concentration as he slammed the door shut, and ... it shut on his middle finger and lopped off the top.

Aaaaargh!!  I know, I know - it STILL makes me shudder.

Y dropped the leash and the dog ran off. Y stared down at his finger-tip on the porch and struggled to believe what he was seeing. Then he called for an ambulance on his mobile phone. Then he decided he couldn't wait so he picked up his finger and went to his car to drive himself to hospital (!!!)

Not being able to turn the ignition, and starting to feel the pain, he went next door to ask for help. He banged on the doors of three houses before finding someone at home. Our lovely next door neighbor on the other side came to his aid. Y said something like "Can you please take me to a hospital, but first I have to find my dog."

So they went down the street calling the dog, and when the dog bounded up Y grabbed him, took him back home and put him back in the backyard. Then the neighbor gave him a flannel to wrap wround his hand and the finger tip, and drove him to the nearest hospital.

The nearest hospital was a private one which doesn't have an emergency department. They went in and were told a surgeon could operate but it would cost three thousand dollars. Y asked our neighbor to take him to another hospital.

So he ended up in the large and public Dandenong Hospital which has a very busy and respectable emergency department.

From there he called me at work, and said "I'm at the hospital. I've had an accident and chopped off the end of my finger."

I screeched and jumped up from my chair and said I was coming, and he said, "No, don't come - I'm fine, you stay at work. They're going to operate soon and I'll come home in a taxi."

Not only was his voice slurry from pain or medication or both, but the fact my very scroogey husband just said he would pay for a taxi to come all the way from Dandenong alerted me that he wasn't himself. I told him I was coming.

I wasted a bit of time sitting back down and standing up again, putting my hands over my mouth and feeling sick, sitting down, standing up, picking up the phone and putting it down. Then I closed down my computer, after carefully turning on the out-of-office assistant (?!). I told my boss and then my colleagues and then, finally, I rushed out.

At the hospital I arrived just in time to accompany Y and an orderly from the emergency department to a ward. The orderly wheeled Y and I followed, CARRYING THE PLASTIC BAG WITH A FINGERTIP IN IT. As we travelled through sixteen kilometres of hospital hallway, I joined Y in just not being able to believe this was happening.

Y ended up in hospital overnight, and having surgery the next morning. They don't re-attach fingertips, as the vessels are too small and they can't recover the feeling in the tip anyway. So he had a "skin graft" which sounds a lot less gross than it sounded when the head nurse gave us the details of the operation the next day.  Suffice it to say, he will end up with a shorter middle finger and ongoing pins and needles or pain in that finger for some time.

We spent most of that day in the hospital talking about the accident and trying to process what had happened. Y blamed himself and I disagreed. You can blame the dog, I said; you could blame me for scheduling the vet appointment on that day; but most of all the fault was with the design of the door and that thing called "bad luck".

So many bad things could happen to us at any moment, throughout any day. We pass through danger all the time. It could have been worse, much worse. It could have been two fingers, or the finger all the way to the joint, or {shudder} it could have been one of the kids.

We weren't completely unaware of this danger beforehand (though I always imagined broken fingers -  would never have thought a door could lop off a fingertip). We thought we were careful when closing the door and we never let the kids shut the door. Since this happened Y has been lamenting the fact that we had never fixed the door. But I have to admit it honestly had never occurred to me. We bought a house; the door had no handle on the outside - that's just the way it was. It was annoying for sure, but I suppose I somehow just thought (without thinking, obviously) that this was the style of door we had acquired, and that was that.

But we have now fixed it. A simple door handle from the hardware store, and a quick extra job from a handyman we had round for something else, and our door was fixed:

So now it's four days later, and Y is spending most of his time at home, taking antibiotics and painkillers and feeling bored and glum.

Apart from the obvious horror of the whole thing, the timing was not great. (Not that I can imagine good timing for chopping off a finger, but you know what I mean).

Having been made redundant from my full-time job in November, I had just started a new job working part-time, for less money (even pro-rata) than I was earning before. Don't get me wrong, I love this job and my new life, but I am not due to be paid for a little while. Y's job pays weekly and only for the days that he works. He won't be able to work for two weeks, and is obviously not able to do much at home. Even when he isn't in pain, he must be very careful not to knock or hurt his finger in any way to make sure the skin graft will take.

So, we're belt-tightening for awhile, and I am doing everything at home (FOR A CHANGE HA HA! No, actually this has made me realise how much Y does do - I had probably underestimated that I confess).

And you know they say bad luck comes in threes?
In the same week the dishwasher AND the vacuum cleaner both died. The dishwasher had been terminal for some time, but the vacuum cleaner was unexpected.

So while you feel sorry for Y, spare a thought for ME: I'm hand-washing dishes AND sweeping floors. Sad face!

Have you ever injured yourself in your house?
Is there anything you should have fixed but only got around to fixing after something bad happened?

Feb 13, 2012


Dear Blog,
My children are refusing to do what I tell them and are also outwitting me verbally. They are six. What should I do?

Another year, another book decrying "helicopter parenting" and telling us to ignore the children. This year's book, 'Bringing Up Bebe' (or 'French Children Don't Throw Food') by Pamela Druckerman, tells us the French rear their children better and as a result the kids learn to be patient and well-behaved.

You can save some time by reading this tres drole piss-take at The Guardian.

I say baloney!

No kid is well behaved all the time - even in France.

No average-to-good parent either smothers their children or lets them run wild.

My kids don't throw food, even though they cannot speak French.  I get compliments daily on how lovely and charming and polite and well-behaved they are (thank you, daycare!).

Yet they are right little buggers at home much some of the time.

I give you two examples, both from yesterday.

Example 1:
The kids and I were sprawled on the floor of the loungeroom playing with the blocks. A asked for a toy that was on the other side of the room. "Off you go," I said. "No, you get it," she replied. "No, you," I said. Etc. There followed a bit of banter as to whose responsibility it was, who had tired legs, who was closer, etc. Then A said casually, "Anyway, you're not working anymore, so you can get it."

Excuse me???

I tell you what, as I reached over and retrieved the toy I really let her know who was out of line!

Example 2:
Last night it was very important to me that I sit down and watch the "movie-length special" (a.k.a.  "two episodes") of Homeland. This was because: (1) Homeland is currently my favourite TV show of all time; (2) I have had very little adult time in the evenings lately with M not sleeping; and (3) I just wanted to. As the show started at 8:30 that should have been easily possible. I prepped the kids throughout the day by reminding them that bed-time is 8:30 and tonight I'd be watching an adult movie that they absolutely couldn't watch, tomorrow is school and they have to be in bed by 8:30, etc etc etc.

We were all in agreement.

By 8pm, dinner and bath were done and the kids were winding down playing quietly in their rooms. We were on track.

At 8:10 the playing sounded louder and had moved to the one room. I popped my head in, reminded them to play quietly and that bed-time was 8:30. As I left I said "Don't make a mess."

At 8:20 I came to put them to bed and say good-night, and walked into THIS in A's room:

I must add, that the above photo was only ONE portion of the bedroom floor (and I took it this morning after "some" had been cleaned up!). The entire floor was covered with Barbies, Squinkies, Strawberry Shortcakes, My Little Ponies, McDonald's Alvin and the Chipmunks toys, Disney Princesses, notepads, stickers, doll clothes, cars, dollhouse furniture, pencils, bracelets.... and more.

"What's this?!" I moaned. "Girls! I TOLD you not to make a mess!"

M stood next to me, unfazed, and nodded sympathetically. And she said (get this): "Frustrating, isn't it?"

At least that made me laugh, though I was trying not to.

What do you think?
Are your kids well-behaved?
Are you strict at home or relaxed, or do you do a bit of both?

Feb 11, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Big Red Bath

@homedad hosts a meme called Fiction Fridays which is all about showcasing the children's books you are liking, reading or enduring.

My book this week is one the girls have loved since they were three. We recently re-read it and they delighted in remembering all the story and the beautiful pictures.

Big Red Bath

Julia Jarman & Adrian Reynolds, 2004 (Orchard Books)

 Ben and Bella in the big red bath -
"Splash you!"
"Splash you!"
Splish! Splosh! Splash!
Bubbles in the bath.
Water on the floor.
But who's this scratching at the door?
Great things about this book:
  •  good cadence for reading aloud with rhyme and lots of splooshing and splashing
  • the kids are twin siblings like mine; one of their second cousins is also called Ben
  • fantastic pictures with the exaggeration of a kid's imagination: pretending the bath is huge, the water and bubbles fill the room, the bath flies down the stairs, out the house, in the sky, to outer space... and back home
  • all the animal friends are explained in the pictures of the bathroom at the beginning and end of the book: puppy slippers, lion toothbrush cup, giraffe shampoo bottle, etc

Some of the pictures:

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Feb 6, 2012

New Skills

This month we are all learning new things.

M. very proudly made her own bed. She has only done it once, but she was very pleased with herself.

A. started on freestyle stroke in her swimming class. She's using a kickboard, but it's something she couldn't do last week.

Y. is learning - slowly, slowly - that he can't constantly work himself to the bone to earn a FEW extra dollars without it having an impact on his sanity, health and family life.

And I am adjusting, very happily, to a new way of life.  At least I hope it will continue and be my new way of life. From tomorrow I am starting a new job working three days a week, with a company, boss and colleagues I know well, doing work I am good at and like. In the current climate I consider myself very lucky to have this job, and I am thankful that the years I spent at my previous job led me to this one.

So what's to adjust?

Well, funnily enough, since finishing work 3 months ago, I have found that I am not very good at a few things that go with the SAHM job description. These are:

  • grocery shopping. Working full-time for so long, I got used to buying little and often. I tried weekly shops in the past but they just didn't work for me.  But working part-time with less money coming in, my old way is no longer the best fit
    • In my old life: I found my best rhythm menu-planning for 3 meals a week, doing one or two "picnic dinners" and one or two baked beans/scrambled egg dinners, and the occasional take-away. I cooked a couple of meals per week in advance (1 or two nights before), and assembled the rest based on what I had planned and what was to hand. This worked pretty well
    • In my new life: I am trying to menu plan a bit more and do a weekly shop, but I keep finding I run out of things much faster than I thought, and/or I forget stuff at the supermarket. I've picked up a couple of tips from some good blogs (like No Excuses!), and am sure I'll get better. I just need to find my new rhythm.

  • scheduled housework. My excuse was I was exhausted from the last (in particular) two years of very hard work under a fair bit of stress, combined with two weeks of contract work and birthday and Christmas planning in December, but whether from this or just laziness I found myself not achieving very much on the home front for a good few weeks. Actually I did do a lot, but I suppose I was expecting that my house would become sparklingly clean, de-cluttered and gorgeous more or less straightaway. And of course that didn't happen.
    • In my old life: Y and I split the tasks (mostly) and would do one or two each night, with me doing sixteen thousand loads of washing on the weekend. The house was always untidy, and we only just managed to keep up with what mostly needed to be done
    • In my new life: Y is doing a lot less (but that stops now!), and I am slowly learning to spend some time most mornings I don't work doing SOMETHING other than sitting around with a coffee and my phone. It still feels like an unbelievable bonus being home during the day that I just want to enjoy it. But, that attitude does not get the floors washed!

I hope this is not coming over as complaining - it is so, so, so NOT. To be honest I am just writing what's on my mind so as to post something other than Fiction Fridays this week!

I am very very grateful for this change in my life - however temporary it may prove to be, I hereby resolve to ENJOY it and make the most of it.

So what about you? What new things have you been learning and doing lately?

Feb 3, 2012

Fiction Fridays: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

My first Fiction Fridays post was last week - this is my second.

What it is:
@homedad hosts a meme called Fiction Fridays which is all about showcasing the children's books you are liking, reading or enduring.

My book this week is not something we're currently reading but a personal and family favourite:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle, 1969 (Puffin)

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.

Everyone loves this book.
I have very clear memories of it from kindergarten: delight every time I found it available in the bookshelf, the gorgeous colours, the die-cut pages, poking my little fingers through the holes.
It was one of the first books I bought to read to my own children, and our soft-cover edition is much-thumbed and dog-eared.
Recently my sister bought them the hard-cover edition so we have that too.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of those rare perfect books. It is beautiful, a good story, and very clever. The blurb on the back describes it as "deceptively simple" and it is. In addition to a lovely story, these are the things covered simply, beautifully and perfectly in this book:
  • nature: where caterpillars come from, what they eat
  • night and day
  • days of the week
  • passage of time
  • counting
  • types of fruit
  • colours and shapes
  • interactivity
  • nutrition
  • hunger, eating too much, feeling full, how to feel better
  • temperance
  • metamorphosis
How many picture books cover this much ground in 11 pages?

Here are some of those beautiful pages

end papers

butterfly wing

Do you have a favourite picture book? What makes it special?

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